10,421 DSB

“Move fast and break things” can, if one is not careful, become “move too fast and things break you.” I riffed on this recently (see 10,367 DSB) and suggested that a software development ideology perhaps isn’t suited to governance. What I failed to realise is that this is an example of a bigger issue: models becoming morality.

Sticking with MF&BT: the idea is that rapid, repeated iterations of the Build-Measure-Learn cycle will reveal the most viable option(s) for a business to adopt. More crassly, it’s the strategic throwing of shit at walls. The aim is to find what sticks. But here’s the problem:

Move fast > Things break > The strong survive > The survivors are the strong.

The shift from a software-development model to a concept from evolutionary biology, and onwards to the (mistaken) assumption that there’s some sort of cosmic justice in operation can happen terrifyingly fast. Unfortunately, the recognition of “success” results in haloes, so people/orgs that effectively apply a model in an appropriate domain are likely to experiment with its application in other, inappropriate fields. (Additionally, the novel application is unlikely to be attempted at a smaller scale–success tends not to satiate ambition.)

Examples of the misapplication of models abound. A startup founder can cash out and, post-liberation, reinvent him/herself as a nutrition guru; a journalist can refactor him/herself as a practitioner of the hard sciences; a SEO marketer can, after bootstrapping a few parenting blogs, become a developmental psychologist. Heck, I can read some books and write a lot of words and it can appear like I’ve accumulated more insight than the average person–of course, that’s debatable.

Models becoming morality is a subset of the violation of domain dependence. I’ve found the best way to think about this to be the concept of translation.

When foreign literature is translated from its native language to a non-native form, something is irreversibly lost. Language itself is nuanced and every language is nuanced in its own special, spectacularly weird way. I can’t just copy-and-paste a passage of original Dostoevsky into Google translate. Translation is a real skill. Plus, translators unavoidably imbue their work with a piece of their selves in the process.

Another lens to view domain dependence through? Metaphors. A metaphor compares one thing to another in order to emphasise a specific property of the original object. Yet, no-one ever mistakes a metaphor for a literal comparison…

Summa: we all carry models within our minds. These models work better in some domains than others. We need to be increasingly wary of forgetting this in these complex, complicated times.